Government still manages to pass anti-union Bill C-377 as Parliament draws to nasty close.
by Ish Theilheimer and Samantha Bayard
OTTAWA, Straight Goods News, December 12, 2012: Conservatives lost big and won big on the last day of of the 2012 Parliament. They lost big when a reputable accounting firm challenged their claims about the true costs of the proposed F-35 stealth fighter jets. Even with egg on their faces, the government succeeded in passing stealth attack legislation against unions.
Yesterday, accounting firm KPMG published a report that pegged the costs of the purchase and operation of 65 F-35 jets at $46 billion over their lifetimes — in sharp contrast to repeated Conservative claims in Parliament (and the last election campaign) that the jets would cost as little as $9 billion. The report again called into question the honesty, openness with voters and financial competence of Stephen Harper and especially his defence minister Peter MacKay.
Meanwhile, the right-wing governing party quietly passed the controversial private member's bill C-377, which will have severe effect on unions. Some unions will have to raise their dues, many will find their advocacy work hobbled, and the new reporting requirements may kill some unions outright.
As measured by public image, though, the Conservatives had a very bad day. NDP leader Tom Mulcair said in the House,"The report is clear: the cost of the F-35s continues to skyrocket. The program has been a fiasco from the beginning: no tendering process, no clear requirements, and a bunch of ministers passing the buck in an attempt to hide their incompetence and their arrogance."
Earlier in the day, Mulcair told reporters, "They sole-sourced this contract, and that's the best way to be played for a chump by the companies you're dealing with, and that's what's happened in this case." He said Canada was in line for only one percent of the spending under the contract. "They don't even know how to get Canada's fair share of the pie."
In Parliament, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said, "The Auditor General's report showed two sets of information, two sets of books, being presented to Parliament and being presented in an attack on the Parliamentary Budget Officer. That is what the Prime Minister is condoning."
Question Period was marked by even more raucous hooting behaviour from government benches than usual, with the Speaker chastising several MPs afterwards for attempts to provoke Tom Mulcair. NDP House leader Nathan Cullen later told reporters "I think there is an urgency for them to get out of this place. They’ve had a bad couple of weeks which have been quite revealing as to what this government is actually about. Look at them, firing out and heckling and yelling and stomping their feet! This actually doesn’t look mature to Canadians."
Nathan Cullen on Conservative backbench heckling
Later in the day, the Conservatives used their majority to pass the anti-union bill C- 377, with five Conservatives voting against it. Supporters say the bill will force unions to discluse financial information to members and the public – most of which is already available to members – but the impact will be to kill or hobble many unions.
The Conservatives rushed the bill through Finance Committee in spite of concerns about its costs and legal ramifications and to a vote before the six-week winter break of Parliament.
"Our country has been built on the recogniton of rights," Tom Muclair said to reporters, on the subject. "This is an attempt by the Conservatives to break down the system of representation and protection of workers' rights in Canada. It will, of course, be defeated by the courts. But in the meantime, it will require a lot of bureaucracy."
Labour minister Lisa Raitt downplayed the impact of the bill, saying it "empowers workers" and the courts could rule on its legality.
But the NDP's Alexandre Boularice (Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie) told Straight Goods News, "It’s [the new legislation] going to be costly and useless. It’s going to cost $90 million for the first three years of the implementation of 377 if the Canada Revenue Agency and the Parliamentary Budget Officer are right… It’s going to be costly, it’s going to solve no problem at all.
"I think it’s going to be useful for the people that want to attack the labour movement. It’s going to be useful for those who say the labour movement should not be political at all. Political, I’m not saying partisan, I’m saying you know, being an agent of change, a social actor in the political sphere. So it’s going to be useful for them to have those data to attack the labour movement.StraightGoods.ca